Building Dignity’s Diaspora through Rapumentary Film: Learning from <i>Ngātahi</i>

  • Luis Alvarez Temple University Press


Through an exploration of Ngātahi: Know the Links, a six-part docu/rapumentary film by Maori filmmaker, rapper, musician, and activist Dean Hapeta, I propose that Hapeta, the folks in his films, and the many they identify with are part of a diaspora, one based on interlinked struggles for dignity rather than any particular place or ethnic affiliation. The film uncovers and encourages a diaspora made up of the many local spaces and small politics that seek to make dominant neoliberal, race, or power relations unworkable on the ground, even if only for a moment at a festival, spontaneous musical or poetic performance, or house party. The project both documents and cultivates dignity’s diaspora, showing how people make sense of and strike back against the forces of globalization. They reveal connections between a range of movements for autonomy and freedom. In the larger-than-life murals of pre-Columbian history in Los Angeles and revolutionary struggle in Belfast, the poetic verses thrown on streets in Rapid City and Cape Town or the public marches for the return of indigenous land and against police brutality in San Francisco and the Philippines, Ngātahi illumines dignity’s diaspora. Hapeta and the many new friends he makes along the Ngātahi trail show us that the small politics of cultural work and performance may not be so small after all. More than just imaginary solutions to real problems, the cultural practices evident in Ngātahi enable people to speak back against their own erasure by making a record of events, injustices, and calls for change that might be otherwise ignored or forgotten. Hapeta’s films suggest that “revolution” in the neoliberal, postmodern, postcolonial era may be more plausible with a small “r” and an “s” at the end. The artists and activists in Ngātahi ultimately practice a politics of the possible, demonstrating that utopian hopes for a better future can emerge from the dystopian and almost apocalyptic misery left in the wake of global capitalism and imperialism.